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Born into a working class family in Dundee, Sir William Allan joined the Royal Navy as an engineer, during which time he served aboard a ship engaged in the American Civil War. In 1886, he started his own engineering company in Sunderland, the Scotia Engine Works, after reviving the fortunes of the North-Eastern Engineering Company in his role as manager. In February 1893 he became Liberal MP for Gateshead, which he held until his death in 1903.
“Of humble stock, Scotch, sturdy, canny, thrifty, he made his entrance on this stage some fifty ‘or thereby’ years ago. But of his origin little is known, save that he throve on porridge. In which respect he later came to feel the potent consequence of sound oatmeal on literary culture. For, though bound apprentice to an engineer, he found spare moments for the Muse. To get, maybe, still more beyond his depth he went to sea: lived hard, showed grit, and wooed that fickle jade, Fortune-so-called-by running the blockade. Sea-serpents, cyclones, mermaids, and the rest, mixed up with hair-breadth 'scapes, enriched his quest for bold adventure. Ultimately, tired of wandering, the sailor-bard was hired to ‘boss’ some engineering works up North; whence, after long seclusion, he came forth, a full-fledged Radical authority, chosen by Gateshead's 868 majority, to shut his eyes and vote by crack of whip as Caucuses might order: to a chip of Scottish block, distracting!
Yet this bluff and rugged poetaster has good stuff. Warm-hearted, horny handed, ex-mechanic; big-limbed, big-bearded, big-voiced, and Titanic; although his glare is savagely defiant, he is a genial kind of Gateshead Giant, whose faults are on the surface.
Only those who know his verses thank him for his prose.”